After parade chaos, community raises questions about alcohol abuse, mental health

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GALLUP, N.M. — A day after police say a man drove an SUV into a Gallup parade, injuring 15, many in the city and in Native communities across New Mexico say alcohol abuse is still a big problem.

Regional and statewide leaders gathered in Gallup Friday morning and joined in on Zoom. They debriefed the traumatic night before, and had a conversation about the issues facing the community.

Below are some of their comments.

Gallup Mayor Louie Bonaguidi: “It was very traumatic last night.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez: “This is a trying time for all of us.”

Parade Coordinator Melissa Sanchez: “I’m still shook up.”

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie: “I personally blame alcohol on this. We need also representation from the law of alcohol enforcement here because we have lost that in the city of Gallup and in the County.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, (D) New Mexico: “We need to do more to prevent any intoxication in any context where people are in high-risk behaviors, including driving while intoxicated, and that has to get much, much better immediately.”

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Crotty: “Our coordinated efforts to start addressing these systemic issues of mental and behavioral health in our communities that stem from trauma.”

In all the discussions, there were not many specific proposals.

In hundreds of social media comments on the video, people in the community asked what leaders can do about problems surrounding alcohol abuse, drinking and driving, and mental health.

Below are a few of them:

“We need to address alcohol and it’s effects on Diné.”

“We need a tremendous amount of resources put into alcohol treatment”

“Behavioral Health and additional resources are definitely needed…”

Many mentioned trauma is the source behind alcohol abuse for a lot of people.

Some said fewer locations should have liquor licenses. Others said sellers need to stop selling to people who are already drunk. 

Many said law enforcement need more resources in the area, and, beyond that, calls continue for stricter DWI laws and enforcement.

Advocates for sober driving are again joining those calls.

The local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter said New Mexico’s laws do have some teeth, especially compared to some other areas of the country, but they want to push for more changes.

Those include making sure that cases aren’t dismissed, that prosecutors have the tools they need, and that some penalties get tougher – including when someone has prior convictions or when people don’t follow probation terms.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Lindsey Valdez, regional executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “We want to make sure that the current laws that are in place for DWI are adhered to in the criminal process and always in an effort to increase what those penalties are – all for future deterrents.”

Valdez said the goal of much of that change would be to deter people from driving while impaired.

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